Dialogue: Kim Dong-ho

THR's Nielsen Impact Award honoree discusses Korea's cultural evolution, the state of the film business and the future of PIFF

Kim Dong-ho has been a formidable force in Korean culture for five decades, working at the Ministry of Culture, the Korea Performance Ethics Board, the Seoul Arts Center and, for the past 14 years, as the head of the Pusan International Film Festival. The recipient of the Nielsen Impact Award recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Mark Russell about his past and PIFF's future.

The Hollywood Reporter: How has Korea's cultural landscape changed since you began at the Ministry of Culture in 1961?
Kim Dong-ho: In the 1960s, Korea's film industry was weak for many reasons. There was strong censorship from the government, especially from 1972. Just after the military government started, they instituted the Motion Picture Law in 1962, which I helped write, which restrained filmmaking, distribution and importing. It started a quota system for importing films.

Before 1961, foreign films were most common, but after the quota, there were only 20 to 25 foreign films a year.  From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s was the first Golden Age of Korean cinema. The second Golden Age was from about 1997 to 2006 or '07. It was my experience to work at the Ministry of Culture in the 1960s. I was very impressed and pleased to be working in culture. It was my first experience with culture of any sort. But in the 1960s and '70s, the culture industry was very weak. In 1972, I helped establish long-term cultural policies in the government. It was our first five-year plan for cultural promotion policies. We established the Korean Cultural Foundation and made cultural laws and cultural policy. We also established fundraising policies from the theaters. In the cultural budget, the first priority was maintaining and restoring our cultural heritage. After that, we invested in the other arts, such as literature, painting and performance. Then, there was no support system for the film industry. We just restricted foreign films and had the quota. You could make big money then if you imported foreign films, therefore we wanted those people to invest in Korean films.

THR: You spent time in the early 1990s as the head of the Korea Performance Ethics Board, the organization responsible for rating movies and, back then, censoring them. But as the head of PIFF, you were a key proponent of ending censorship. How do you reconcile those two positions?
Kim: I only worked for the Ethics Board for two years because there was too much trouble between the government and me back then. For example, I allowed "The Crying Game" and did not cut it at all. I also allowed in (Sergei) Eisenstein films like "Battleship Potemkim" and "October," which had been banned before then. And Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers." So the government disliked my way of running the board.

THR: Why has the Korean film industry been having problems recently?
Kim: The slump of recent years is because of two major reasons. One reason is that many blockbusters failed. The other is that production costs have grown too high. Because of those problems, investors now hesitate to invest in Korean movies and therefore the number of films being made has gone down.

THR: What can PIFF do to help the local film industry?
Kim: The film festival circuit these days is seriously competitive. There are many challenges -- from Japan, Hong Kong and China. Therefore, we have to have creative works, we need to develop creatively. From 2006, the 10th anniversary of PIFF, we established the Asian Film Academy and the Asian Cinema Fund. I personally think that the festival itself must maintain the right size, but creatively, on the project and the programming side, we need to make more and more efforts.

THR: What are you most proud of in your career?
Kim: During my time at the Ministry of Culture, I have been mainly in the creative fields. I helped establish the Korean Cultural Foundations. And after that, I planned the construction of the Seoul Arts Center and Independence Hall. While I was president of the Korea Motion Picture Promotion Corp. (the forerunner of KOFIC), I established the construction of the Namyangju studios. Now at PIFF, we are building the Busan Film Center, and will finally start construction this year. I am very proud of my career at the Ministry of Culture. But I prefer now, working with the film side at PIFF. It's my second life (laughs).

THR: What is in the future for PIFF?
Kim: My hope is that PIFF will be the center of the Asian film industry. It's possible Korea could be the center of Asian film because of several factors -- there's PIFF itself, plus there are many universities with film departments in Busan, so there are so many film professionals being produced there. Also, KOFIC and many studios will move to Busan around 2012, when the Busan Film Center will be done. Then, I am confident Busan will be a center for the Asian film industry.

THR: How would you like to be remembered?
Kim: My great pleasure and honor was that first PIFF. I will never forget it. We faced many challenges, first all, the budget. It was a big problem raising enough money for our first festival. Another big problem was how to avoid the influences of the city and national governments, especially political influence. But because of my career in the government, I knew how to protect the festival.

THR: What has been your biggest disappointment?
Kim: I don't have any (laughs). Personally, I am living with all the possibilities of achievement, and I have an optimistic view. So I guess I have not faced disappointment yet.
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